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Thursday, July 04, 2013
Lectionary Scriptures:  II Kings 5:1-14 AND Psalm 30:1-12 OR Isaiah 66:10-14 AND Psalm 66:1-9, Galatians 6:1-16, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

I’m not sure what got me moving down thought paths related to “philosophy of life” as I read the lectionary texts this week.  Is it because there such a distance at times between ways of life in biblical days and in our own day?  Is it because our nation’s Independence Holiday is this week?  Many think of our nation as being built on ideas and ideals---freedom being perhaps the biggest one, although I suspect our nation’s origins are tied as much to economics as social philosophy.  (Perhaps we should have dug more deeply into freedom last week when one of the verses said, For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”---Galatians 5:1.  Pastor Rick did take the subject up in his sermon.)

Maybe my thinking about “philosophy of life” is simply a product of my age.  When I was in seminary we did a lot of studying of the “developmental stages” we humans go through at different ages.  The theory, set forth by a number of psychologists and educators and philosophers with a great deal of variation, suggests that there are tasks we must accomplish at each stage of life if we are successfully to move on to the next---like learning to crawl before learning to walk.  Some of the stages are more physical; many are social and psychological.  Most theorists have come to acknowledge that there is not a rigidity about the order, that some tasks may take a lifetime, that we may come back and revisit earlier “stages,” etc.

I did a little research reviewing some of the theories and decided it would be overkill (not helpful to anyone’s development) to try to reproduce that research here.  It is sufficient to say that one of the tasks that challenges us somewhere along the way, most frequently we are told, in young adulthood and perhaps again in older adulthood, is that of developing a “philosophy of life.”  That means coming to some understanding of the meaning of life, how it works and what that means to us for the living of it.  Actually Erik Erikson identifies a series of questions asked at the various stages of life, from infancy to old age.  Can I trust the world?  Is it okay to be me?  Is it okay for me to do, move and act?  Can I make it in the world of people and things?  Who am I?  What can I be?  Can I love?  Can I make my life count?  Is it okay to have been me?  Together their answers go a long way as a philosophy of life.

The title I used this week asks, “How’s life treating us?”  In developing a philosophy of life, we come to some understand of how we “deserve” to be treated, what works best in our treatment of others, whether the world is a safe and rewarding place, sad or happy, or perhaps quite dangerous.

Having been thinking about “philosophy of life” I read this week’s readings as relevant to that topic.  Someone once said that a critical part of biblical interpretation is the question (or questions) you bring to biblical readings.  I suspect almost any set of biblical readings would shed some light on one’s quest for a philosophy of life, so let’s see what we can learn from this week’s texts.

II Kings gives us an intriguing and delightful story of Naaman, an Aramaen military commander of stature and power, used to being treated with deference.  His philosophy of life, and that of those around him, was that rank brings privilege, but he also had leprosy. (II Kings 5:1)  Lepers were not treated well, often considered untouchable.  In Aramaen raids a young Israelite girl had been captured and now served Naaman’s wife.  (vs. 2)  She is unnamed, but without her intervention, Naaman might just have dropped out of history.  Her philosophy is that Yahweh, the Israelite God, through Yahweh’s prophets, has power over leprosy---and more importantly, that that she can’t keep that information to herself.  Wherever it came from, there is within her, a compulsion to help solve a problem when she is able.  She tells about the prophet, Elisha, and his ability to cure leprosy.  (vs. 3)

Now if this were just a people to people project, it might have been simpler.  But government got its hand in the mix.  We have to follow channels and protocol.  Naaman has to go up the line to the king of Aram who then must communicate with the king of Israel.  (vss. 4-6)  That’s the way life works, isn’t it?  At least according to one philosophy of life.  As so often happens, information gets lost while going through channels.  Not everyone is on the same page.  The poor king of Israel thinks he personally is being asked to cure Naaman.  He knows he can’t do it and fears war may ensue if he doesn’t.  (vs. 7)

Elisha steps in and offers to undertake the cure, but his methods offend Naaman.  “Go wash in the Jordan seven times,” Elisha tells him.  Naaman wants something more dramatic, worthy of his position.  “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!”  After all he had rivers back home, much cleaner.  (vss. 9-12)

Part of one’s philosophy of life is one’s understanding of how things get fixed.  I want to be cured, but you’d better do it my way.  Naaman’s servants comment to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it?”  Are they implying that Elisha’s approach seems too easy?  Surely something as serious as leprosy requires some magic or some penance or some apologies or who knows what.  We sometimes have a difficult time accepted the “simple” fix.

The story continues beyond this week’s reading.  We don’t come back to it next week, and it contains further twists and turns in the understanding of how the participants understood things to work.  Naaman, as well as Elisha’s servants, thought that Elisha’s service deserved payment.  After all, that’s the way things work.  One pays for what one gets.  Elisha refuses payment.  (vss. 15-20)  Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, follows Naaman and exacts payment, much to Elisha’s displeasure.  (vss. 21-26)  The end of the matter is that Gehazi ends up with Naaman’s leprosy.  As happens in other biblical stories, a foreigner is shown to be “worthy” while a “good” Israelite is taken down.  That certainly upsets the philosophy of life that many hold in their understandings of “friends” and “enemies,” of lines of inclusion and exclusion.

The philosophy of life question I see highlighted in Psalm 30 focuses upon the role of joy and sorrow in life.  What is the meaning of the tears that come our way in life?  What long term perspective do we have on them?  The Psalmist says of God, “For his anger is but for a moment; his favor for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning . . . You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy . . .”  (Psalm 30:5 & 11)  The reading from Psalm 66 is also about joy---this time without the weeping.  (Psalm 66:1)  What struck me was the word “awesome.”  “Awesome” became almost a flip response in the 1970s and 1980s indicating general approval about or enthusiasm for something.  The word has much deeper roots as an expression of deep awe.  The Psalmist says to God, “How awesome are your deeds! . . . he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.”  (vss. 3 & 5)

Is there room in our philosophy of life for awe?  As we move through the developmental stages of life, what do we experience as awesome?  How does that change over time?

The reading from Isaiah addresses, in a surprising way, whether the world in which we lived is nurturing or dangerous.  Often we think of God as a stern father, or occasionally a loving father.  Here we are given an image of Jerusalem and the God of Jerusalem as a caring mother.  It speaks of nursing and being “satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom . . . you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, and dandled on her knees.  As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you . . . (Isaiah 66:11, 12-13)

This week’s reading from Galatians calls us to consider issues of independence and interdependence, as well as the value of our work, in our philosophy of life.  We are to “bear one another’s burdens,” yet “all must test their own work” and “all must carry their own loads . . . for you reap whatever you sow . . . So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up . . . So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all . . . “  (Galatians 6:2, 4-5, 7, 9-10)  Much to think about and discuss in those words.  For the moment let’s just note the emphasis upon doing what is right and working for the good of all.

The Gospel lesson is rich with images that challenge us.  Some of us try to carry everything we own along with us when we travel.  Even those who try to travel light want to carry enough to be self-sufficient and comfortable.  In the reading from Luke, Jesus is sending out seventy disciples.  He tells them to travel lightly (“no purse, no bag, no sandals”---Luke 10:4) and depend upon the hospitality of those they meet along the way.  “Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you.”  (vs. 8)  “Welcome” is a word Luke uses frequently.  Understandings of giving and receiving hospitality are very much built into one’s philosophy of life.  In this reading, hospitality is something to be freely given and received.  If one is not welcomed, one simply moves on.  (vss. 10-11)

Awesome, welcome, simplicity, right, good, nurture, joy and sorrow, reward, privilege, deserve, deference---words from these stories (and there are many others) that call us to think about our philosophy of life---about the nature of the divine as it is expressed in the workings of this world and in our daily living.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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